September 5, 2017
Despite earlier concerns over censorship and a cyberattack traced to Chinese hackers — and the fact that its search engine can only be accessed in the region by using VPNs (due to the government’s filtering system) — Google is reportedly ramping up its presence in China. Its careers web page lists nearly 60 open positions in Beijing and Shanghai. According to The Wall Street Journal, at least four of the engineering positions involve artificial intelligence, “including a technical lead to develop a team to work on natural language processing, data compression and other machine learning technologies.”
While Google Cloud does not presently operate in China, two posted positions involve machine learning for the company’s cloud-computing operation. The size of China’s Internet-connected population (and lack of privacy concerns) makes the region an attractive option for advancing AI, which relies on machine learning.
“China has a lot of data from mobile payments, gaming, social, search and news,” said IDC’s Kitty Fok. “Technology companies like Google are keen to learn what’s going on and getting large amounts of data to create AI algorithms is very important to them.”
“Although Google’s search engine has been blocked in China since 2010, the company has maintained a presence in the country and has made progress in mending relations, most recently by collaborating with local government on the AI summit in the town of Wuzhen,” reports Financial Times. The Google Play app store remains blocked, but the company “has relaunched Google Translate, which was previously blocked, as a Chinese-language mobile app.”
While Google ramps up its AI efforts in the region, Chinese rivals are building R&D facilities here in the U.S. “Earlier this year, Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. said it would open an AI center in Seattle to focus on speech recognition and natural language understanding. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Baidu Inc. have R&D centers in Silicon Valley,” notes WSJ.
Earlier this summer, China’s State Council announced its goal of becoming a global leader in AI by 2030. According to CNBC, the Council’s guidelines for developing AI encourage open-source platforms and government and private investment.